23 August 2019
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

Complement your exercise routine with pilates

July 11, 2008

Pilates is the perfect discipline to complement any exercise regime and can improve performance and help prevent injury.

pilates-anchor.pngIf cardio-vascular (aerobic) training is the bread and butter of fitness then Pilates surely is the smoked salmon and cream cheese. Yet how does one determine optimum fitness? You may have achieved your goal of running 10k in just under an hour (pretty good going) yet you struggle to reach your toes when stretching your hamstrings.

There are many components to fitness which determine complete physical and psychological conditioning and you need to incorporate them all into your training regime. Agreed, the best exercise is the exercise you enjoy the most but not if you are building up to future niggling repetitive strain injuries or your muscles are so tight from resistance (weight) training that you struggle to stretch them effectively, if at all.

Throughout adulthood, if we are to train effectively and safely over a considerable amount of time, one must include all components of optimum fitness; stamina, strength, balance, stability, co-ordination and psychological health all of which are vital aspects when designing an exercise programme.

Why choose Pilates?

Working all muscles groups within a variety of disciplines is the only way to achieve a holistic (whole) body approach and so protect your body, as far as is possible, from troublesome repetitive strain injuries that prevent you from enjoying your favoured activities. People tend to stick to exercise routines for far too long, sometimes because they’ve been given a programme when they started out and don’t have the knowledge to change it or because they are happy with the results and don’t question changing what is familiar.

If you consistently run, cycle, cross-train and weight train, say 3 to 4 times a week, you are utilising your global muscles, the strong, larger muscles and, of course, you are unquestionably training hard. However, this leaves your smaller, deeper postural muscles neglected; those which help stabilise and support the global muscles.

We are only as strong as our weakest link so protecting these larger global muscles by strengthening and lengthening our postural muscles makes perfect sense.

This is why much emphasis is now put on strengthening our core muscles, those of the tummy and lower back which help support our spine and encourage us to focus of all aspects of our body. Pilates is the perfect discipline to improve muscle endurance, strength, suppleness and posture and helps us to relax by way of gentle breathing techniques.

The postural elements are incredible; we learn to stand up straight with our shoulders back and to engage our tummy muscles leading not only to the appearance of being taller, but also to reducing the risk of curved shoulders, rounded tummies and tight hamstrings. We learn to walk with our chests leading the way and not with our heads forward, like a clucking chicken.

pilate-move.pngBack problems are often associated with poor posture, high impact activities and incorrect exercise techniques, and, as the spine can be subjected to 3 times your body weight, the impact can also affect your neck, hips, knees and feet. Global muscles are continually stressed leading to over-development and the supporting, deeper muscles are left neglected, leading to under-development and, coupled with bad postural habits, can mean back pain and injury.

Resistance training, by its very nature, causes muscles to tighten, but, because Pilates also works on lengthening all the major muscle groups whilst simultaneously engaging our core, these effects are counteracted and muscle balance is created. Movements are measured and smooth, rhythmic and flowing and demand absolute concentration and focus which expose any weaknesses and from there you are able to work on improving all muscle and joint limitations including back, neck, shoulders and hips.

Who is it best for?

The perception of Pilates being purely suitable for the older, infirm person, rehabilitation (usually over-use injuries) or pregnancy is a fallacy as Pilates, like Yoga, can be as challenging as you want it to be as it is an extremely flexible discipline using increasing intensity depending on your specific limitations and ability. Choose from matwork Pilates, where all exercises are performed on a mat using bodyweight resistance and sometimes light weights, machine Pilates where exercises are performed against resistance using specialist equipment and, last but not least, Pilates performed using a Swiss Ball (first used by Swiss Physiotherapists for rehabilitation purposes).

If you are a runner, it is vital to strengthen supporting muscles around the spine, hips, knees and ankles and that your hamstrings, quadriceps and back are regularly stretched. Pilates will increase flexibility in surrounding muscles leading to greater suppleness, for instance, the adductors (inner thigh muscles) assist with leg stability when running and you will find your stride length increases.

RunningYour trunk will become stronger enabling you to run for longer and increased spinal strength will improve your running posture. All of these are vital factors in achieving overall muscle balance, improving conditioning and decreasing your risk of injury.

Participate in a Pilates class and I assure you, you will ache in places you never knew existed, you will be stronger than ever before and create a leaner, more toned and flexible body that will allow you to continue your favourite exercises without being hampered by unnecessary injury and muscle imbalance. Next time you fancy a jog, why not run to your local Pilates class, what have you got to lose!

Laurel Alper, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Laurel Alper is a Personal Trainer, Pilates Instructor and Nutritional Therapist at NW3 Fitness Studio in London and can be contacted via email at la-la@sky.com

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